NL Cy Young Preview

September’s here. The usual suspects (and the Mets) are dominating the National League. Continuing my series of major award previews, here are the five players most likely to win the NL Cy Young Award, in ascending order of likelihood:

5. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
No, Bumgarner probably isn’t one of the five best pitchers in the National League. Despite last October’s theatrics and the subsequent canonization, he probably never has been. He’s 13th in the league in ERA (2.97) and tied for fifth in FIP (2.76) despite pitching in the most extreme pitcher’s park in the league. His 9.84 K/9 are great, but not Kershaw (11.48) great. Bumgarner finds himself on this list for another reason. He’s 16-6, and while pitcher wins and losses don’t carry as much weight as they used to (for good reason), it’s not just defense and run support that are carrying him to all those wins. MadBum is batting .262/.286/.525 with five home runs. That’s not just far better than any other pitcher, it’s 27 percent better htan league average for any player. Fangraphs tells us he’s been worth 1.1 wins above replacement with his bat and glove. Add that to his 4.4 on the mound and he jumps to third in the NL in total fWAR. That’s not quite MVP material, but if the Cy Young Award is for the best player in baseball whose primary position is pitcher, Bumgarner’s not far off.

4. Jacob deGrom, Mets
Two years ago, the Mets brought up a rookie who pitched one of the great seasons in baseball history, nearly joining a very elite club. When Matt Harvey missed a full season to Tommy John surgery, the Mets called up deGrom, a less-heralded but nearly-as-effective righty who won the Rookie of the Year award. This year it was Noah Syndergaard’s turn to introduce himself to the world, but as good as Thor has been, Harvey’s been better and deGrom has been the best of the three. His 2.32 ERA ranks fourth in the NL and his 2.89 FIP is ninth. He’s a major part of the reason the Mets have surprised everyone by running away with the NL East. A lot would have to break his way for deGrom to win a Cy Young Award, but it’s not impossible.

3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
If I were ranking the best pitchers in the NL this year, Kershaw would come out on top. 11.48 K/9. 1.61 BB/9. 0.63 HR/9. 2.24 ERA. 2.10 FIP. There’s nobody better in the game right now and this lines up with the best years of the lefty’s career. There’s a better story going though- maybe two- and voters need to be blown away to keep giving the Cy Young Award to the same guy. Kershaw was the best pitcher in the league when RA Dickey won his award in 2012 and he’ll likely have been the best pitcher in the league when one of the next two guys wins it this year. So it goes.

2. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
Until this weekend, this was a one-horse race, and it may still be, but with his Sunday no-hitter against the Dodgers, Arrieta reminded us that ballots aren’t due just yet. His 2.49 FIP can’t quite match Kershaw’s, and it’s driven in large part by a freakishly low 0.44 homers per nine innings. His 2.11 ERA isn’t quite the next guy’s, but it would be the fourth lowest in either league over the last ten seasons, topped only by the guys before and after him on this list. Both are second-place figures, though, and along with the narrative of the Cubs finally getting back to the playoffs and a chance to break a 107-year World Series drought, it’s not out of the question that Arrieta could pull into the lead this month.

1. Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke has a 1.61 ERA. Pedro Martinez never did that. Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver, Warren Spahn, and Randy Johnson never did that. Here’s full list of qualified ERAs that low since 1920:

Bob Gibson, 1968, 1.12
Dwight Gooden, 1985, 1.53
Greg Maddux, 1994, 1.56
Luis Tiant, 1968, 1.60

Two of those guys pitched from 10-foot high mounds in the Year of the Pitcher. One of those guys started just 25 games in a strike-shortened year. Zack Greinke’s 2015 is next on this list.

His 8.23 strikeouts per nine are merely very good. His 1.56 walks per nine are legendary. For good measure, he’s given up a homer per 18 innings, held batters to a .236 batting average on balls in play, and stranded 86% of runners who reached base against him. Don’t expect Greinke to keep his ERA this low over five or six more starts. It’s very likely, though, that he’ll keep it under 2, and if he does, he’ll be hard to deny for his second Cy Young Award, even if Kershaw or Arrieta is just a few hundredths of a run behind. Some numbers are magical. So are some seasons. Greinke’s having one of those right now.

Honorable Mention: Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, all of the Cardinals’ starters

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Ranking This Year’s AL MVP Candidates

Much like I did last night for the NL, it’s about time to take a first look at which AL players are the most likely (if not necessarily the most deserving) to win the 2015 Most Valuable Player Award. From five to one:

5. Nelson Cruz, Mariners
Nelson Cruz plays for a bad team. He’s a defensive liability and offers no baserunning value. He’s not going to win the MVP, this year or ever. That said, the dude is raking. He’s got 39 home runs, and might make a run at 50. He’s batting .314 and draws the occasional walk. Let’s just say this: if the top two guys are struck down by meteors in the next week or two, there is reason to believe some voters might be swayed by Cruz’s impressive bat.

4. Dallas Keuchel, Astros
Sonny Gray (2.13) has the better ERA. Chris Sale (2.38) has the better FIP. It’s hard to argue that Keuchel has been the best pitcher in the league this year, let alone the best player. He does have a 2.28 ERA, though, and a 2.66 FIP, both good for second in the league, and his Astros have a healthy lead in the AL West. We’re really splitting hairs about third-place votes here, and Keuchel’s a reasonable option for a bronze.

3. Lorenzo Cain, Royals
This would be such a Golden Era pick, wouldn’t it? If not for divisions, wild cards, and playoff games, the Royals would be lapping the field for the AL pennant, waiting for another I-70 showdown against the Cardinals in the World Series. Why are the Royals 13 games up in the AL Central? Well, relief pitching and defense, I suppose, but those don’t make for sexy MVP candidates. How about a center fielder hitting.312/.368/.483 with 12 homers, 26 stolen bases, and a good chunk of that aforementioned defensive acumen? As Cain goes, so go the Royals. #narratives

2. Mike Trout, Angels
Is this the year the Best Player in Baseball™ meets his match? I mean, aside from the voters who like ribbiez and batting crowns? Since Trout joined the league in 2012, there’s never been a player all that close to equaling his performance over a full season. 2015 just might be that year somebody does better. Sure, Trout is hitting .298/.397/.581. That’s good for a 171 wRC+, better than every American Leaguer except Cruz and part-timer Miguel Cabrera. Sure, he has 33 homers, 10 stolen bases, and a handful of highlight-reel catches. Sure, he’s been worth 7.1 WAR per fangraphs and 7.4 per Baseball Reference. But somebody’s been better.

1. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
It’s the 36 homers. It’s the .301/.369/.584 slash line that looks an awful lot like Trout’s. It’s the third-base defense that grades out better than Trout’s by just about any measure. It’s the slight edges in both versions of WAR (7.4 and 7.6, respectively). More than any of that, though, it’s the narrative. Trout’s always awesome. We’ve known that since he was a teenager. Donaldson, though, was a non-prospect who overachieved for two seasons with the A’s. All-knowing Billy Beane dumped him in the offseason for pennies on the dollar, either not willing to put up with his attitude or certain that his recent success was a fluke.

Then Donaldson brought the rain to Toronto. Bautista, Encarnacion, Martin, and Reyes were there waiting for him. Tulowitzki and Colabello joined the parade. Donaldson outperformed them all. The Blue Jays have scored 718 runs on the season, 89 more than the second-place Yankees. That’s not just in the AL East- it’s an 89-run advantage over any other team in baseball. Donaldson’s in the middle of it all, more than doubling any other Blue Jay’s WAR.

If it feels like Donaldson’s been clutch, the numbers back it up. His 5.43 Win Probability Added leads all AL position players, more than a win ahead of Trout’s 3rd-place 4.11. The Blue Jays are 24-5 after a 50-51 start, scoring almost six and a half runs per game over that stretch. Credit the acquisition of Troy Tulowitzki, but Tulo has batted .237 with four homers as a Blue Jay. Donaldson, since the All-Star break, has hit .320/.408/.707 with 15 home runs in 39 games. If he keeps hitting like he did in August, Donaldson might turn one of the great MVP races in recent memory into a laugher.

Honorable Mentions: J.D. Martinez, Manny Machado, Chris Sale

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Sizing Up the NL MVP Race

The dog days of August are about to give way to the pennant chases of September. As the playoff picture comes into focus, so do the postseason award races. Let’s take a look at the top contenders, starting with National League Most Valuable Player. I’ll rank them in ascending order of likelihood to win the award.

5. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt has probably been the second-best position player in the NL this year. He’s batting .326/.442/.567 with 26 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and good defense. He’s transitioning from a good player toiling in relative obscurity to one of the game’s great superstars. So why isn’t he higher on this list? Because one guy has a higher batting average, higher OBP, higher slugging percentage, more home runs, and plays on a team with a better record. He’ll collect a lot of second-place votes, but there’s just no avenue for Goldschmidt to ride to the award.

4. Buster Posey, Giants
Posey already owns an MVP, a Rookie of the Year Award, and three World Series rings. He’s batting .313/.371/.471 and playing well at the most important position on the diamond. The Giants are winning again and Posey is their face, at least on the offensive side of the ball. It would probably take a postseason push (which looks less likely after this weekend) and a fade from the guys ahead of him on this list, but Posey could be in line for some more hardware.

3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
We talk a lot about Mike Trout having been the most valuable player, or close to it, each of the last four seasons. While his numbers are a little more earthbound, the same could be said of McCutchen, who won the award in 2013 and might have won it in in ’14 if the voters weren’t looking for a new angle. He’s a contender again in 2015, hitting .305/.406/.522 with 20 homers, seven stolen bases, and his typical solid work in center field. Perhaps most importantly, he’s the only one of the NL’s five 5-WAR position players (per fangraphs) whose team would make the playoffs if the season ended today.

2. Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Fielding-independent pitching metrics prefer another Dodgers pitcher, but run prevention says Greinke has been not only the best pitcher in the game, but the most valuable player in the National League (his 8.2 WAR per Baseball Reference top the next guy by .2 wins). The 14-3 won-loss record might not ring as loudly with today’s voters as it would have in years past, but a 1.61 ERA reverberates all over the country. Greinke’s 164 strikeouts and 31 walks are good for a 5.29-to-1 ratio, better than his 4.75 figure when he won the Al Cy Young in 2009, with a 2.16 ERA. The Dodgers are in first place as well, so if it feels like we’re watching the same movie we watched last year, we may be in for another predictable Hollywood ending.

1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
Before the Nationals decided they weren’t interested in winning the NL East, this seemed like a forgone conclusion. Even after falling off some in the second half, Harper’s .332/.458/.652 line far exceeds that of any contender in either league (Miguel Cabrera’s 188 wRC+ is the closest in either league to Harper’s 195, and no one else in the L is over 173). He’s clubbed 31 homers, he’s a good baserunner and a good defender, and he fills the narrative of breaking out after (somewhat ridiculously) being considered for the past few seasons. The only thing standing between Harper and his first MVP is his fading team.

Harper’s season feels a bit like Jacoby Ellsbury’s in 2011. He looks like the best position player in the league, and he continues to excel while his teammates crumble around him, so the pitcher with striking numbers starts to look better and better to the voters. His saving grace may be the absence of a Jose Bautista having arguably as good a season with the bat and splitting the votes from voters who would rather not give a pitcher both major awards.

Honorable Mentions: Clayton Kershaw, AJ Pollock, Joey Votto

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Garciparra a Boston Legend, if Not a Hall of Famer

One more in the Forecaster series, this time about the guy who was Big Papi before Big Papi… kind of.

He steps into the batter’s box, rearranging the dirt with his feet. He steps out of the box and tightens his batting gloves. Back in the box, he stares down Ramiro Mendoza on the Yankee Stadium pitcher’s mound, gesturing toward Mendoza with his bat in a circular motion six times, then checks his batting gloves again. The gloves are ready. The pitch is over the plate. Nomar Garciaparra turns on it, clearing the left field fence and setting off at a casual pace, following both runners around the bases as the Red Sox extend their lead over the Yankees to five runs. It’s Garciaparra’s second homer of the day and his 23rd of the 1999 season, and it raises his batting average to .352. The Red Sox are headed back to the playoffs and their 26-year-old shortstop is an MVP candidate. Life is good in Boston.

Fast-forward four and a half years and the Red Sox are fresh off another playoff run.
Still just 30, Garciaparra has put up numbers that compare with those of the game’s legends. How many other shortstops have had 173 home runs, a .323 batting average, and more than 40 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in their first seven full seasons? None, of course, but the closest was contemporary Alex Rodriguez, who, along with Garciaparra and Derek Jeter, formed a triumvirate of power-hitting shortstops who revolutionized the position in the late nineties and all seemed destined for Cooperstown.

On July 1, 2004, Garciaparra looks on dejectedly, nursing an Achilles tendon injury as the Red Sox lose a heartbreaker to the Yankees, falling eight and a half games behind in the division. To that point in the season, Nomar had appeared in just 17 games, batting .235 with just one home run and defense that may still have been suffering from the wrist injury that cost him most of the 2001 season. Weeks later, he would be shipped off to Chicago in the deal that brought Orlando Cabrera and a championship to Boston, and his career would never fully recover.

Nomar would go on to wear Cubs, Dodgers, and Athletics uniforms before signing a one-day contract to retire with the Red Sox in March, 2010. After leaving Boston, he hit .288 with 51 home runs in the final 1,771 plate appearances of his career, adding just 3.1 WAR to his career total. Still, Garciaparra’s .313 career batting average is better than every shortstop in history except Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan. His 370 doubles are more than Johnny Mize or Duke Snider hit, and his 229 home runs top Hall of Fame infielders Bobby Doerr and Barry Larkin.

When his name first graced the Hall of Fame ballot in 2014, he received 5.5 percent of the vote, just enough to linger on the ballot for one more year. Given all the more qualified players stuck in ballot purgatory, there is no chance that the Baseball Writers Association elects Garciaparra to the Hall. Is that fair, or is Nomar underappreciated because of his career arc and the length of time since he provided fans and writers with the most inspiring memories?

In terms of accumulated value, the Hall of Fame cutoff point tends to be between 50 and 55 WAR. Most eligible players with more than 55 WAR have busts in Cooperstown.
Most players with fewer than 50 WAR do not. Garciaparra’s 44.2 seem to put him firmly on the outside. There are, of course, many exceptions. Infielders like Travis Jackson, Red Schoendienst, and Phil Rizzuto are in the Hall with fewer WAR than Nomar. So are short-career sluggers like Chuck Klein, Hack Wilson, and Roy Campanella. A peak like Nomar’s has overwhelmed a lack of volume in the eyes of the voters many times before.

On the other side of that coin, infielders like Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Bobby Grich are outside the Hall of Fame with far more WAR than Garciaparra earned (each has at least 70). So are superior sluggers like Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Piazza. The Hall of Fame has held the players of recent generations to a standard far higher than any other era, so if an exception is to be made for Nomar, one will need to be made for dozens of more qualified recent players as well.

In its totality, Nomar Garciaparra’s baseball resume is that of a star, if not necessarily a legend. For seven years in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, though, Nomar was among the game’s elite players, and the most popular player on a popular and successful Red Sox team. For some fans, the lasting image of Nomar in Boston has him sitting on the bench, nursing a wrist or ankle injury. Others remember Nomar slapping doubles off the Green Monster, lining homers over it, or chasing down a slow roller and throwing on the run for an out. These are memories of a Boston legend.

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David Ortiz and the Quest for 500 Home Runs

Episode three in the Forecaster series. As of this reposting, this one’s almost four weeks and exactly for Big Papi dingers old. By the time you’re reading it, it’s probably older. So it goes.

On June 27, 1977, Willie McCovey hit his 487th career home run, a solo shot off Jack Billingham of the Cincinnati Reds. Four innings later, McCovey victimized Billingham again, his second solo clout in a 14-9 win, and number 488 for his career. It was a lost season for the Giants, as McCovey was past his prime at 39 and surrounded by mediocrity.

On August 7, 2015, David Ortiz hit his 487th career home run, a two-run shot off Daniel Norris of the Detroit Tigers. The next day, Ortiz victimized Alfredo Simon for number 488, his third blast in four games, in a loss to the Tigers. It was a lost season for the Red Sox, as Ortiz was past his prime at 39 and surrounded by mediocrity.

McCovey finished his Hall of Fame career with 521 home runs and 2,211 hits. McCovey’s nickname, Stretch, seems to have applied more to the lefty’s 6’4” height than his ability at first base, where modern fielding metrics show he was well below-average. He was no threat on the basepaths either, stealing just 26 bases in his career. All he did well was hit, but in that pursuit, he was an all-time great, even raising his game in October, adding three home runs in just two postseason series.

Ortiz’s nickname, Big Papi, is an obvious reference to the lefty’s size. He’s been listed at 6’3” and 230 pounds since he really weighed 230 pounds. His fielding, though, is so suspect that the Red Sox rarely let him wear a glove, and he’s never done much damage with his legs, stealing just 15 bases in his career. All he does well is hit, but in that pursuit, he is an all-time great, his 488 home runs scattered among 2,251 career hits. And in October, he may be the all-time greatest, adding 17 home runs and several lifetimes’ worth of dramatic flourishes.

Whether Ortiz will reach the 500-homer plateau is less a question of math and more a question of belief. He turns 40 this November, and will likely be somewhere north of 490 when the 2016 season starts. Do you believe he can stay injury-free and add to his total at an age when most players are golfing, fishing, or coaching their kids’ Little League teams? Do the Red Sox believe giving Ortiz regular playing time at age 40 is a responsible resource allocation, with Hanley Ramirez’s performance demanding that he assume designated hitter duty? Does Ortiz believe another year of baseball is in his best interest?

In light of Papi’s recent power surge, the answer to all of these questions is probably yes. In fact, pending a physical, the Red Sox are contractually obligated to pick up his option in 2016, and will give to pick up his 2017 option if they play him regularly in ‘16. With something like 450 plate appearances next season and 200 in 2017, one can envision Ortiz finishing right around 521 homers. That would match not only McCovey, but also Frank Thomas- another 6’5” behemoth- and Ted Williams- another lefty who did a little damage at Fenway Park.

Five hundred home runs were once a guaranteed Hall of Fame ticket. Setting aside those with the most prominent asterisks next to their names, every eligible player with 500 career roundtrippers has a bust in Cooperstown. Value metrics suggest that Papi falls short of most, if not all, of those sluggers, since he hit most of his longballs in a hitters’ era and did so without adding any fielding or baserunning value. That said, Ortiz is a postseason legend without equal. If we include the postseason, Papi’s 500th home run was the first of two he hit against the Tigers on July 26th, and now he’s only 19 short of McCovey’s 524.

Whether or not Ortiz ever makes the Hall of Fame, it looks more and more likely that he will hit 500 home runs, and there is little reason to believe he might reach that milestone in any uniform other than Boston’s. From relatively inconsequential drives against unsuspecting rookies with no pennant race in sight to extra-inning walk-off jobs in October, Big Papi has hit a homer for every occasion. It’s no stretch to say he’s an all-time great.

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Predicting the Rest of the 2015 Season

Here’s episode two in my Forecaster series, predictions for the rest of the season. In the week since I first drafted this, I’ve lost a little faith in the Nationals and a lot of faith in the Mets’ ability to fall behind the Nationals.

The 2011 Boston Red Sox had the best roster I had ever seen. They missed the playoffs by one excruciating game. The 2015 Washington Nationals might have been even better on paper. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned.

On any given evening, any major league baseball team can beat any other baseball team. This is true of baseball, when the players on the field change from day to day, more than any other sport. Over 162 games, things tend to settle, with the most talented teams rising to the top. Nothing is ever guaranteed, though, as a rash of injuries or a team-wide slump can make a good team look bad over an extended stretch.

In 2015, the American League standings look almost upside down, with massively talented rosters in Seattle, Cleveland, and Boston spending much of the season in last place, while surprises like Houston, Texas, and Minnesota remain in contention for the postseason. In contrast, the National League has followed the script, with the exception of Washington’s August swoon, which has knocked them out of first place.

As August fades and September beckons, the playoff picture is starting to come into focus. Following are one fan’s predictions for the rest of the regular seasons and the playoffs:

In the American League East, the already stacked Blue Jays added ace David Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, along with a few key bullpen pieces, at the trade deadline. Even with just average pitching, they look like the best team in the American League. Over the weekend, Toronto overtook the elderly Yankees, who have succeeded so far on the backs of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Brett Gardner, three injury-prone players who have been surprisingly healthy in 2015. Teixeira’s recent knee bruise could signal that the team’s uncanny luck is finally running out.

The Royals are clearly the class of the AL Central, and will sail to the division title on the backs of their strong defense and dominant relief pitching.

Out west, Houston played .500 baseball between their 18-7 start to the season and this weekend’s exhilarating sweep of the Dodgers. Three months of mediocrity may not inspire extreme confidence, but the Astros are peaking at the right time and new acquisitions Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers are dealing. Even another month of .500 ball should be enough to hold off the middling Angels and Rangers for the division title.

The Yankees look like a lock for no less than the first Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Angels and Rangers will continue to jockey for position in the Wild Card standings with Minnesota, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay. Baltimore certainly has the strongest offense of the five, and may have the pitching to claim the final AL playoff spot.

In the National League East, after the weekend’s games, the Mets had a five-game lead over Washington, which, given the talent gap between them, makes for a compelling race down the stretch. The Mets’ history of September collapses shouldn’t affect this team, but the youth of their pitching staff might, as two of their three young pitching stars, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, have already surpassed their career highs in big-league innings and Matt Harvey is approaching his. With Stephen Strasburg healthy again and Bryce Harper leading the MVP race, watch for the Nats to eclipse the Mets in the final days of the season.

The NL Central has been the strongest division in baseball, home to the three best records in the league, but it offers little to watch down the stretch. The Cardinals are running away with the division, the Pirates are way out in front for the first Wild Card, and the Cubs have a six-game edge for the second.

It’s a familiar picture in the NL West, with only the Dodgers and Giants relevant once again. The Giants continue to squeeze more than can be expected out of a pedestrian roster and can never be counted out, but the Dodgers have a reloaded rotation with Mat Latos and Alex Wood slotting in behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, possibly the two best pitchers in the league, and despite their no-show in Houston over the weekend, they have the bats to hold off their rivals for the division.

Predicting the winner of a 1-, 5-, or 7-game series is a fool’s errand, as recent history reminds us that any team can get hot and catch a few breaks and topple a more talented team in October. That said, I’ll give it a try so you have someone to make fun of at your Halloween party.

First, the Wild Card games: The Yankees will reprise the eighth-inning magic that has kept them afloat this August and beat the Orioles despite Baltimore’s strong bullpen. Jon Lester will reprise his role as Wild Card goat when the Pirates score six in the sixth to come back against the baby Cubs.

In the American League Division Series, the Blue Jays will make quick work of the Astros, welcoming them back to the playoffs with nine home runs in a three-game sweep. The Royals and Yankees will pit their league-best bullpens against each other in five epic games, the Royals’ depth providing the edge as they win more than one in extra innings.

The first National League Division Series will pit baseball’s two best rosters and two bumbling managers. Fans of other teams will be in awe of Bryce Harper’s and Yasiel Puig’s dazzling feats of athleticism, while fans of the Dodgers and Nationals will watch through their fingers as Don Mattingly and Matt Williams fight to give each game away, letting Jonathan Papelbon and Kenley Jansen rot on the bench while weaker relievers pitch high-leverage innings. The magic that carried Washington past the Mets in September will finally fade as Los Angeles prevails in five.

After watching the Cardinals win more than 100 games in the regular season, fans across the country will get a glimpse of the superior Pirates, who hit better and run better and whose pitchers have nearly identical strikeout, walk, and home run rates to the superficially elite Cardinals’ rotation. The Cards’ historically great strand rate won’t help them when the Pirates blow them out in games one and two in St. Louis. As America falls in love with Pittsburgh, the Cardinals will break our hearts again, winning three one-run games to claim the series.

In the American League Championship Series, America’s other team will see its magical run fade. Toronto will take advantage of Kansas City’s mediocre starting pitching by hitting balls where the Royals’ great fielders can’t get to them. Two showdowns between trade acquisitions Price and Johnny Cueto will be the highlights of a five-game Toronto win.

The National League Championship Series will see the Dodgers exact revenge on the team that has knocked them out of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. Kershaw and Greinke will carry the Dodgers in six games.

A Blue Jays-Dodgers World Series will guarantee someone’s first championship in over two decades. It will also pit the majors’ best offense against the best playoff rotation. Kershaw and Greinke against Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion constitute must-watch baseball. Pitching will win the day, as the Dodgers take the series in six.

After the Series, we’ll learn that Josh Donaldson was named American League MVP, dealing Mike Trout his third second-place finish in four years. Bryce Harper will easily win the NL’s award. Greinke and Oakland’s Sonny Gray will win the Cy Young Awards, while Houston’s Carlos Correa and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant will be named Rookies of the Year.

If you feel compelled to take any of these picks to Vegas, please don’t send me the bill when you lose.

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Frustrating Red Sox Well Positioned for the Future

Hey there, folks. It’s been a while since I wrapped at ya. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing about baseball. It means I’ve been doing so for newspapers and not for all you virtual people in your underwear in your moms’ basements (or is that supposed to be me?). I’ve got a few ideas brewing for the blog, but in the mean time, I’ll whet your appetites with a series of pieces I’ve written for The Forecaster this year. Let’s skip my AL East preview and jump right into why Red Sox fans shouldn’t panic over the team’s second straight last place finish:

The first three months of the 2015 baseball season have been reminiscent of this winter in New England. For a few weeks, the Red Sox sported a winning record, benefiting from a surprising number of errors-call them Christmas gifts- by opposing defenses to win despite signs of rust.

In late April and early May, the pitching fell apart, as the starters couldn’t seem to avoid the big inning. Every game felt like a few days of mild weather until eighteen inches of snow got dumped on Boston overnight. When the pitchers came around, the bats went quiet, and the rest of the American League East started pulling away, leaving the Red Sox buried under three feet of fresh powder.

As the calendar turns to July and the bats heat up again, it feels like the damage is done. Not only is the team mired in last place, but the three players to whom the Red Sox committed a total of $273 million this winter and spring have been the primary culprits. Rick Porcello, who will get $95 million over the next five seasons, has a 5.61 ERA. Hanley Ramirez, who’s due $88 million over four years, has been the
worst defensive player in baseball by any measure, including UZR, which tells us he’s cost the team over 11 runs with his glove so far. Pablo Sandoval has been predictably streaky with the bat, but few could have predicted the disaster that is his defense, most notably the front office that awarded him $95 million through 2019.

Let’s not mistake the rough start and the underperforming stars for long-term trouble. This season is probably a lost cause, but the Red Sox still have one of the league’s best lineups and enough competent pitching to win a lot of games. Over the longer term, there is plenty of reason to believe another spring is near in Boston, and the key statistics supporting this optimism are found not in box scores, but on birth certificates. Here’s a look at four groups of Red Sox players by age:

    The Old Guys

David Ortiz is 39. It’s been challenging to watch Ortiz argue with umpires about check swings, a sign of reduced bat speed and hand-eye coordination, and he
seems to fall victim to defensive shifts more than anyone in baseball. Still, he’s been a league-average hitter and still has some power in his bat, something very few 39-year-olds in baseball history can claim. He should have one final year in him,
and if he sees limited action, Ortiz could be an asset to the team.

Koji Uehara (40) has had a magical tenure in Boston, saving many heart attacks throughout the 2013 playoff run and winning over fans with his smiles and high fives. After this year’s trade deadline, he should find himself in another uniform, as a last-place team has no use for a closer and there’s little reason to believe he’ll be much better next year than he’s been this year.

    The Late-Prime Guys

This group contains many of the reasons fans and analysts had high hopes for this year’s Red Sox and most of the reasons they’ve been so awful. Setting aside Dustin Pedroia, still the team’s best player at 31, and Clay Buchholz, 30, the one dependable pitcher, this group has been awful. Ramirez (31) has power, but he doesn’t get on base nearly enough to justify the awful defense. Mike Napoli (33) is batting under .200 and looks utterly lost at the plate. He may be trade bait, but only
if he can start hitting enough to warrant any kind of return. Shane Victorino (34) and Daniel Nava (32) can’t stay on the field. Justin Masterson (31) can’t get anybody out. Craig Breslow (34) and Alexi Ogando (31) have not been the answers Ben Cherington seemed to think they might be this offseason, and we haven’t seen enough of Ryan Hanigan (34) to know whether he’s the right answer as the team’s primary catcher.

Many players are done by their early thirties, but most who had success in their late twenties, and that includes most of the names above, have something left. A few of these guys- Breslow and Napoli come to mind- are probably done as productive players, but some of them will bounce back and contribute to the team in 2016.

    The Prime Guys

One thing the Red Sox seem to have a shortage of is guys in the heart of their careers, 26 to 29. Sandoval is just 28, but seems to be aging fast, thanks in no small part to his body type. Porcello is 26, looked like an ace last season, and may have a future as an ace if he can navigate the Boston experience and get his game back on track. Wade Miley is 28 and has been solid over several starts since a rough

Brock Holt is 27, but seems younger because he was a non-prospect and took a slow route to the majors. Holt has been among Boston’s most valuable players each of the last two seasons, and appears to be part of the team’s long-term plan, even if the team doesn’t commit him to a position. Rusney Castillo is also 27, and like Holt, will spend his prime learning the game at the Major League level. He
has the raw talent to be a major contributor over the next several seasons.

    The Young Guys

Elite, young talent is the hallmark of this Red Sox team. Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are both just 22 and are establishing themselves as major stars with their bats, their gloves, and, mostly in Mookie’s case, their legs. There’s an excellent chance both of them begin runs as perennial All-Stars next season.

Eduardo Rodriguez is an even younger 22 and has been exhilarating in his first few starts at the big-league level.

There’s no guarantee that either Christian Vazquez (24) or Blake Swihart (23) is a future star, but one of them is likely to stick as the team’s primary catcher, and between Vazquez’s defensive game and Swihart’s bat, the team is likely in good hands either way. Jackie Bradley, Jr. (25) hasn’t shown he can hit enough for the Red Sox to put much faith in him, but he’s one of the game’s best defenders, and he should have a future, either as Boston’s centerfielder, or as a valuable trade chip.

In addition to the marquee young guys, the Red Sox have now promoted pitchers Matt Barnes (25) and Edwin Escobar (23), and infielders Devin Marrero (24), Garin Cecchini (24), and Sean Coyle (23) to the 40-man roster. Brian Johnson and Henry Owens are close to the majors in Pawtucket. At the lower levels, Yoan Moncada, Manuel Margot, and Rafael Devers are potential impact players who should see big-league action in the next few seasons.

The Red Sox of the future will be cutting their teeth at Fenway Park this summer. Fans may not welcome a Red Sox team for which David Ortiz is not a major contributor, but Papi’s exit could work wonders for the defense. If Hanley Ramirez gives up his glove to assume the designated hitter role and Sandoval moves to first base, next year’s Red Sox could feature Sandoval, Pedroia, Bogaerts, and Holt, Coyle, or Marrero in the infield. An outfield of Betts, Bradley, and Castillo, would be tremendous defensively and not altogether lacking in offensive pop. Vazquez and Swihart could split time behind the plate. Rodriguez, Buchholz, and Porcello are the beginning of a solid rotation, with help from the trade or free agent market.

Everyone will be a year older next season, but for most of the names in this paragraph, that’s a good thing.

When winter pummels New England for weeks at a time, it sometimes feels like it will never end. But spring always comes.

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